I remember being unsurprised, when the United States got out of its group at the 1994 World Cup. I knew very little about soccer, but I’d seen the Olympics, and I was pretty used to Americans winning at everything. Plus, it wasn’t like the rest of the tournament was filled with countries with huge soccer reputations. Bulgaria? Norway? The United States was in a group with Romania and Switzerland. Who even knew they had teams?
Since then, of course, I’ve learned a lot about the history of American soccer. How the team qualified for the 1990 World Cup, but only as an accident. About how the United States got hammered at that tournament. About how everyone expected them to get hammered again in 1994.
Into this stepped Eric Wynalda, who even then was brimming with confidence. His free kick goal against Switzerland, in the first game of the tournament, not only earned the United States a 1-1 draw - it was what launched everything that came after. That moment was the beginning of pro soccer in the USA.